GREAT BAY, St. Martin (January 2023) -- The Sage Cultural Award revealed an unexpected element about record-keeping in St. Martin that might have gone mostly unnoticed at the inauguration of the prize in 2022 but will likely increase in short order.
The award, instituted by the ministry of culture and education of the government of St. Maarten, had its first presentation of prizes last November 26, hosted by the territory’s Department of Culture. The first class of 11 awardees of the Sage Cultural Award, according to department head Clara Reyes, met the purposeful definition as “the cultural luminaries in our community, pioneers, founding mothers, fathers, gatekeepers, storytellers, and those that kkept the fire of culture burning bright in their chest.”
It was a joy to know that the ceremony was live-streamed in its entirety island-wide and beyond. What I found surprising as the program proceeded was that over half of the awardees were authors and artists published and produced by or profiled in publications and recordings by House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP), some back to between 1982 and 1992.
This is exciting for publishing, archiving, St. Martin media reporting, and the society’s knowledge base about its culture. For creatives and cultural workers, it presents a challenge for better resume development, accurate record-keeping, and not just word-of-mouth claims but veritable proof that one’s cultural products exist, all of which would critically inform the award nomination process.
The researched and well-written material published by HNP regarding six of the winners reflected strongly in the concrete references, accuracy of information, and clarity of the introduction of the person who was about to receive on stage the territory’s highest arts prize.
A broad range of accurate, documented, verified information about historical and contemporary figures in politics, business, sports, culture, and other areas often range from very hard to impossible to find in St. Martin and other Caribbean societies in general.
For the Sage, professionally published material means that the prize organizers will have less guessing, less hurried or poorly sourced information, and one or more solid texts and products to build on to illustrate the quality of the works, highlight the extent of the contributions, or evaluate the impact of the legacy of those being vetted for the prize.
The 2022 Sage Cultural Award winners with a published record at HNP are Anastacia Larmonie, Roland Richardson, Chester York, Laurelle “Yaya” Richards, Lasana M. Sekou, and Tanny and the Boys string band (Edward Violenus, James Roosevelt, George Violenus, Abraham Thomas, Karl “Tall Boy” Arndell, Maxime Reed, Jocelyn Arndell, Nathaniel “Tanny” Davis, Alberto Richardson, Frederico “Culebra” Smith). The award to Richards was presented posthumously. Most of the members of Tanny and the Boys had passed on before the prize was realized with the support of Minister of Culture and Education Rudolphe Samuel.
Priscille Richards Figaro, sister of the late Laurelle Richards, said in early January that, “Yaya’s family is very thankful and honored to have received the Sage Cultural Award for Yaya’s accomplishments” as a folklorist, culture bearer of traditional herbal and cooking ways, author, and community cultural organizer.
In the case of another posthumous presentation, “The awarding of Tanny and Boys with the Sage award is well deserved,” said Urmain “Youmay” Dormoy. Thirty years ago, Dormoy, a well-known cultural organizer and musician, was the music arranger and conductor for Fête, the debut musical recording by Tanny and the Boys. Representatives were on hand to receive the award for the other artists and cultural workers that were deceased.
Sage Award Winners in HNP Publications and Recordings
The following recipients of the Sage Cultural Award 2022 are matched with publications and recordings from House of Nehesi Publishers: Anastasia Larmonie (leading St. Martin musician; music educator, composer), in St. Martin Massive! A Snapshot of Popular Artists (2000); Laurelle “Yaya” Richards (folklorist), author of The Frock & Other Poems (2010).
Roland Richardson (impressionist painter, writer; environmental activism), was also featured in St. Martin Massive! A Snapshot of Popular Artists (2000). Lasana M. Sekou (poet, journalist, publisher; cultural activism), author of Born Here (1986), was the subject of Caribbean Counterpoint: The Aesthetics of Salt in Lasana Sekou by Sara Florian, PhD (2019).
Tanny and The Boys (legendary string band), featured in Fête–The first recording of traditional St. Martin’s festive music (LP, cassette, 1992) and St. Martin Massive! A Snapshot of Popular Artists (2000). Fête–Celebrating St. Martin’s Traditional Festive Music–Revised Edition was published in 2008. Chester York (St. Martin steelpan pioneer, pannist, pan maker), is was the subject of Chester York–Making of a Panman (1999).
The full complement of the 2022 Sage awardees included Camille Baly (educator, writer), recipient received of Sage’s “Visionary of Cultural Legacy Award”; Veronica “Ms. Vero” Arrindell (community leader/organizer); Cynric Griffith (visual artist); Roland “Paben” Bryson (actor; TV show host/producer); and Clarence “Bongo” Richardson (jollification organizer).
For all awardees, the Sage celebrated the “immeasurable lifetime contribution to the development of, the continued perpetuation of our culture, our heritage, and our legacy,” said Reyes.
The Sage Cultural Award is named after the sage flower. Reyes said that “The sage flower has been chosen for its symbolic significance as represented in our coat of arms. The word sage also denotes reverence, legacy, and wisdom.” The words “Reverence,” “Legacy,” and “Wisdom” are parts of the Sage Cultural Award design.
This article picked out artists published by HNP to highlight their importance of, and to encourage more and better publishing and record-keeping about, for, and by the artists of St. Martin, South and North. But the videotaped gala awards ceremony, held at ALEEZE Convention Center and published online, is also on a record offor all the awardees at bit.ly/3jU0Xwi.
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